In a 2012 Foreign Affairs article, Kenneth N. Waltz made the case for Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. He argued that a nuclear Iran could bring peace to the Middle East, because it would make Iran more secure while balancing Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The fault of the Waltz argument is, of course, that he relies on the short history of the Cold War as proof that a nuclear war would never happen. More countries with nuclear weapons translates into a higher probably that a nuclear conflict with occur, creates greater opportunities for terrorist to acquire nuclear weapons, and empowers rogue states ruled by tyrannical governments to act as they please.
With that in mind, Kim Jong Un’s comments on the quick resolution of the August 2015 flare up in the Korean War does more to raise concerns than alleviate fears of war. The young North Korean leader credits his country’s “tremendous military muscle,” which includes its “nuclear deterrent for self-defense.” Not only did Kim discount the impact of diplomacy by stating the deal “was by no means something achieved on the negotiating table,” he chose to purge members connected to the incident from the so-called Central Military Commission. Where Pyongyang sought out diplomacy instead of war in this case, Kim’s embrace of military might and rejection of diplomacy raises concerns that the more restrained elements within the North are being purged.
Despite further collapses in crude prices and a sinking Russian economy, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has skyrocketed. Similarly, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has only seen his popularity grow as he creates one controversy after another with his often-boorish overreactions to what he feels are wrongs made against him, i.e. he is a victim. Looking at North Korea, the leadership of the isolated authoritarian regime has managed to retain enough support to stay in power through decades of destitution and tyrannical rule.
In contrast, Lebanon is facing a potential collapse of its government over garbage pickup. The defining difference between these and other examples revolves around who is blamed. In the case of Lebanon, the People blame their own government, because they are directly responsible for basic services like garbage pickup. Recalling the Arab Spring Revolutions, there were many attempts throughout the region to blame the United States for the civil unrest, yet those attempts failed to quiet protester outrage for the simple reason that unresponsive governments chose to suppress, instead of address, the grievances of protesters.
The August 2015 flare up in the Korean War lasted only a few days, but it appeared to be one of the most serious threats to the fragile 1953 Armistice that ushered in the eventual isolation of North Korea. Recalling North Korea’s 2010 attacks on the South, which resulted in the deaths of several South Korean sailors, it seems odd this particular incident would escalate to such a serious level. The fact Kim Jong-Un tends to be a far more aggressive leader than his father helps explain a lot, yet there is more to be learned from these events.
In essence, Kim Jong-Un ultimately chose to fire upon South Korea, because it was using loudspeakers to criticize him and his regime. This reaffirms the view that Kim Jong-Un is a terribly insecure leader. From the perspective of the regime, however, the anti-North Korean propaganda was a sign of disrespect. The North’s willingness to deescalate the conflict, offer a “statement of regret” for two South Korean soldiers injured by landmines in the demilitarized zone, and not deny their involvement suggests respect plays a greater role in the North’s actions than the world understands.
From China to Russia, the Middle East to Latin America, civil unrest and dissatisfaction with unresponsive governments threaten to shatter nations and destabilize regions. A major factor is the apparent immunity power elites use to shirk the consequences of their wrongs and overindulge the inherent privileges of their positions at the expense of the many.
Traditional governments existed, because they had the might and legitimacy of legacies to rule over their territories. Within their territories, people were permitted to live so long as it served the interests of the powerful. When the United States was founded, it changed the role of government. Unfortunately, this does not mean those who find themselves in positions of privilege and leadership reject traditional views on power that benefit them.
Since the introduction of the “capitalist” and “socialist” terminology, political forces have pushed the world to choose one or the other. Before the distinction was embraced, capitalist countries like the United States and socialist countries like Cuba pursued policies based on pragmatism, not ideology. Faced with the potential of a “Latin Spring,” Central and South America need to overcome their socialist legacies and their failures to embrace sound capitalist policies in order to build better governments and economies.
Making the intellectual distinction between capitalist and socialist policies is only useful when it is done to understand how public policies work. Both “capitalism” and “socialism” represent two ends of the same economic spectrum. Beyond ideologies that have tainted the capitalist-socialist debate, the fundamental difference between capitalism and socialism is that capitalists rely on automated mechanisms to regulate their economies; whereas, socialists rely on manual mechanisms to control their economies.
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